writer feature: Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

This week’s poem was drawn from the feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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Happy to be sharing a collaborative poem this week by two poet friends: Yahia Lababidi and Laura Kaminski. Collaborative poems create such singular reading experiences, the meeting of two sensibilities creating another sensibility performed through the poem. Because of the idiosyncratic nature of this creative undertaking, I asked Yahia and Laura to share some thoughts on their process, the results of which are featured below after the poem.

PITCHERI was excited when I first read the poem, intrigued by its pacing and lyric turns right away. What I most enjoy about this poem is how its meditation on sin and the body is approached in references and images that redefine both as they accumulate. The first stanza, for example, sets up a logic around guilt that is quickly subverted in the second. Then at the end of the second stanza there is a reference to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, “Guilt is never to be doubted.” This line on its own is one of those faux truisms that denies itself the moment after it’s read or uttered. The silence after the line break makes you immediately doubt this statement on doubt. These moves early in the poem have the effect of a bottle rocking unsteadily on its base and then settling into stillness via the Kafka line. This stillness is the perfect lead into the following stanza’s “Walk softly then” direction.

Similarly, the body is described in house terms and images, all of which create a different conversation about interiority and the self than usually encountered in poems. An image like the water pitcher one in stanza six, for example, is effective for what it evokes through the directive tone and leaves unsaid. By the poem’s end, gratitude for the “holy mess” of who we are works as a physical and active thing through the refrain of breathing.

Holy Mess
by Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

Overnight, your once blessed existence
might reverse course
become an alien thing
and you stand accused
of unspeakable crimes

Never mind, you are innocent
of these base horrors—
as Kafka says, in his Trial,
‘Guilt is never to be doubted’

Walk softly then, in sock-feet
across the floor that’s in your mind
until you reach the alcove
between the two open windows
that serve as sockets for your eyes

inhale through the nose
exhale through the nose

Be grateful, then
there are still dreadful sins
in our fallen world
of which you are blameless

Then move to the left window
lift the pitcher full of water
just beneath it to the sill
and pour it out

inhale through the nose
exhale through the mouth

Cross over to the other window
and look out, cross your arms over
your chest and clasp your shoulders

Now, tell me, how will this crucible
change you? Then show how this
unasked-for crisis is
blessing, allow it to assist
the birth of your longed-for self

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the nose

Slowly, return to descend
the spiral staircase of your spine
until you reach the landing
level with the Heart —

Thank God, for this Holy Mess —
Open the window, air it out

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the mouth

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Yahia: Poetry is an expression of the intolerable. Through it, one can confess in code and attempt to articulate what is unutterable.  Recently, undergoing a particularly difficult spiritual trial, I turned to poetry for solace, as a form of prayer, to overhear my higher self.

But, in this trying instance, I found that my voice and vision were not enough; I needed another poetic soul to unburden myself to, who could talk back to the intimacies that I shared and walk me through them.

So, I submitted the partial poem that I had composed to a poet and friend I admire, Laura Kaminski, and the result is this fuller work of (he)art — a steadying call and response and a kind of breathing meditation.

Laura: I carried the partial poem with me through the remainder of that day and into the night, and what came was this: when a part of our body is in pain, it screams out along the nerves, and it becomes difficult not to slip into that pain as an identity: *I am the torn ligaments in my foot* and such, where the injury and pain of it supersede any other perceptions of the body, become defining. When I hurt, pain hijacks my identity. I cannot see my self beyond the injury.

How much the same is true when what is injured is one of our inner selves, part of our psyche rather than physical body, but superseding identity in the same way: our “I am” is lost beneath the “I am the falsely accused.” How to return to the wider, more comprehensive perspective, to gently invite the injured voice inside to subside, to return to being part of a larger, uninjured whole? Then came the words of walking across the floor within the mind, and it struck me how once those words are thought, the imaginative-identity, like Alice, resizes its self to fit, and opens us to wonderland again.

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Yahia Lababidi, Egyptian-American, is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, most recently the collection of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere.

Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks. She serves on the editorial teams at Praxis Magazine Online and Right Hand Pointing. For more information on her work, check out her site.

writer feature: Olivia Dresher

Jumping back into things with the work of Olivia Dresher whose latest collection of fragments and aphorisms, A Silence of Wordscame out recently from Impassio Press.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of A Silence of Words and got to share my thoughts via the following blurb:

dresher“In A Silence of Words, Olivia Dresher continues to explore her fascination and deft facility with fragments and aphorisms. Taken from their first public home of Twitter, Dresher’s fragments find their way into a reader’s inner consciousness with the intimacy of poetry and the depth of philosophy, offering “Awe, not answers.” If, as she tells us elsewhere, “The mind likes being alone, the heart doesn’t,” this collection delivers at turns solitude and companionship. In the same way that the mind and heart live within one body, so do the nuance and complexity of these short works live within one’s reading experience, each one a gift of presence and existence.”

To get a sense of what I mean in these words, I have included two small excerpts below.

What I would add to readers new to Dresher’s work is how dually instructive and illuminating these aphorisms and fragments are. Able to carry a range of emotion, from perceptively distant to openly vulnerable, Dresher’s work evokes a person speaking to one’s self in a way that is also speaking to you, the reader. Together in this unique space, human realities are experienced in real time.

I first experienced the unique sensibility of Dresher’s work when I discovered the anthology she edited, In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing (Impassio Press). In this anthology, Dresher outlines a clear idea of the varied scope of fragmentary writing through representative works and authors. I continue to admire her work for how it has shaped me both on the page and in life.

excerpts from A Silence of Words by Olivia Dresher

533
Insects are arrogant

534
Tears go deeper than a smile.
Imagine if a photographer told you to “Cry!” instead of “Smile” before taking your photograph.

535
Tears are perfect

536
Tidal wave moments…

537
Everything to feel,
nothing to be done.

538
If I could love unhappiness,
I’d always be happy.

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587
Her mind, a kite her heart liked to fly.

588
What are you reading,
the young man on the bus asked me.
Aphorisms, I said.
What do you do for fun, he asked.
Write aphorisms, I said.

589
Longing to feel his longing…

590
As an infant, what did I love?
I loved music and the sky, even then.

591
Stop spilling your silence all over me,
she said silently.

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Copies of  A Silence of Words can be purchased here.

To keep up with Olivia Dresher’s work, follow her on Twitter: @OliviaDresher

poetry feature: Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share two poems by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal. The first “Escribeme / Write Me” (below) is presented in both Spanish then English. Work presented bilingually always interests me as I take note of the word choice across translations.

Here, the word “coloreame” stood out first in Spanish as it is a variation of the verb “colorear.” In the Spanish alone, there is an emphasized intimacy in moving between “colorear” and “coloreame.” The difference in sense between the words translates essentially as “colorear / to color” versus “coloreame / color me.” The directness of this change is in keeping with the theme of the poem as it is a speaker asking to be written.

Gabriel Amu Amu waves
waves – Gabriel-Amu Amu

This move in Spanish from the distant vibe of “to color” to the more direct “color me” is evoked in English by Berriozábal’s choice of rendering “Coloreame” as “Animate me.” Reading across languages, I feel both a surprise and familiarity in seeing this translation. Surprise, because of the variation in word choice; familiarity because of how apt the word choice is in carrying over the poetic sensibility of the Spanish version. “Animate” carries with it its own intimacy, similar to the move from “colorear” to “coloreame,” as it is a word that evokes a specific urgency, one that is life or death. The speaker, in fact, feels as if they’re dying; to be (re)animated is the desire.

In “Book Without Feelings” (also below), this meditation on life and death continues from another angle. Here, the reader is presented with the scenario of a book able to read a human person. This relationship of the inanimate book reading the animated human self is intriguing in how it subverts our sense of meaning-making. Rather than reading a book for meaning, a book reads the speaker and undergoes a meditation of something beyond animation. The narrative that develops around the “story” of the speaker’s death, in a way, enacts the meaning-making act and finds that meaning is in short supply within a mortal context.

The casual quirkiness of this scenario allows us as readers to be surprised by how the speaker’s meditation hits in a severe way at the end. While the logic of a book not having feelings makes immediate sense, the comparison of this unfeeling state against that of a corpse drives home what is lost in death. That the book is left behind able to be used for meaning-making, but only by an animated self whose ability to make meaning is temporarily and mortally limited — this is where this poem took me. The surprising nature of this ruminative reading experience is a gift, one in keeping with the heart of lyric poetry.

Escribeme – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

Escribeme
Yo también quiero ser poema
Deletreame
Con la tinta de una estrella
Coloreame
Con tu fino pincel
Encantame
Porque me muero de tristeza

Write Me

Write me
I, too, want to be a poem
Spell me out
With the ink of a star
Animate me
With small brush strokes
Bring me joy
Because I’m dying of sadness

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Book Without Feelings – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

The book reads me.
It reads me as if I’m dead.
I’m the hero
who has run out of breath.
It is a load
of baloney. The book
reads about the dead man.

The battle was lost
and a corpse was created.

This was no poetry book.
It was not an autobiography.
The heart gave out.
The book read about
the insects at my grave
soaking in the sun above
and the gaseous fumes below.

The book closed the book.
It did not feel sadness.
It was just a book,
a book without feelings.
At least it was not a corpse.

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Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, born in Mexico, lives in Southern California, and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His first book of poems, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press. His other poetry books, broadsides, and chapbooks, have been published by Alternating Current Press, Deadbeat Press, Kendra Steiner Editions, New American Imagist, New Polish Beat, Poet’s Democracy, and Ten Pages Press (e-book).

To read more of Luis’ work, go here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

poetry feature: Chelsea Bunn

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share a poem by Chelsea Bunn. I’m always a fan of poems that are able to evoke through juxtaposition. In “Missed Connections” (below), what is being juxtaposed is the speaker’s present surroundings with the memories that the surroundings evoke. This evocation is set up first through the clear naming of things: “the downtown 6,” “5 o’clock,” “an accordion,” etc. This clear naming grounds the poem in the speaker’s experience. The poem builds momentum through its descriptions which keep the reader “looking” at things alongside the speaker while an emotional undercurrent begins to build.

The poem takes a turn at the fifth couplet with the direct introduction of the idea of time past. This turn is furthered through the line “Private in my infuriating grief — ” which pivots the poem into the speaker’s inner memory world. What happens next is another clear naming of things, similar to the opening, but one that parallels the real world with memory. The echoes and differences here deliver emotional presence through juxtaposition. The “accordion” from the second stanza, for example, is mirrored in the “ventilator” mentioned in memory.  What was handled through distance in the present is suddenly re-presented in a way that is intimate and personal.

train platformWhile this richness alone is a gift of the poem, it’s the ending that drives home the connection to human experience. This speaker caught in meditation between the present and the past is, at the end, found at a loss. All the clear naming and juxtaposition becomes all the more insistent and urgent with the final line “The things I couldn’t say.” This final line is another act of naming that points to what can’t be named, what has eluded the vision and scope of this speaker. Evoked in this manner, the two narratives of the poem show how poetry can be a place where “missed connections” can be acknowledged, honored, and felt for what they mean.

Missed Connections – Chelsea Bunn

Waiting for the downtown 6 at 5 o’clock,
my other life comes rushing back in waves.

A man straps an accordion to his chest, opens
and closes its bellows, delivering long columns

of sound into the stagnant August air.
Across the platform, pairs of schoolchildren

march in procession, arms linked as if when someone
knows who you are, you won’t get left behind.

You: two years absent, phantom that I drag around.
Me: one year sober, still locked inside myself.

Still sequestered, still on edge.
Private in my infuriating grief—

waking daily from the dream of my father in his hospital bed,
ventilator squeezing and sucking at his chest even after he is gone,

after the blonde nurse has wrapped her clean arms around me,
after the long, low moan of the monitor.

The early morning light blasting through the windows.
The things I couldn’t say.

(originally published by Maudlin House, February 2018)

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chelsea-bunn*

Chelsea Bunn is the author of Forgiveness (Finishing Line Press, 2019). She holds an MFA in Poetry and a BA in English from Hunter College. A two-time recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, she serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing for Navajo Technical University. Find out more at chelseabunn.com

 

poetry feature: Clara Burghelea

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share two poems by Clara Burghelea. I was taken right away by Burghelea’s work and how it develops lyric momentum through complex imagery. In “Nostalgia,” for example, the idea of being “sick” for a body “before it was a body” immediately kicks off from the title into a meditation how bodies develop both a physical and emotional history. The body that once was, as described in the first stanza, “a prettiness slender / like a smack of wind,” is later in the second stanza the body that has known “heart as a dark vessel” and has grown “thick with other people’s thoughts.” The logic of these lines is visceral; youth is evoked as the body being more feeling than physicality, until, with time, the body grows darker and more weighted. This movement from fleeting to stillness by the second stanza returns us to the title. Nostalgia is often thought of as a light thing, an activity of kitsch and cliche. Here, however, Burghelea presents the concept of nostalgia in a way that shows how much longing and reason for longing lie behind it.

body sketch
“Sketches 8” by Diana Schulz

In “The Self as Introduction,” too, the body implies movement. The poem begins with the following image: “No wound loathes its scar, / yet craves the radiant absence.” Through this phrasing, the reader is invited to hold two conflicting ideas at once, that of loathing and craving, in a way that implies an erasure of self. Yet, because this loathing and craving is proposed as being enacted by a wound, the erasure seems less dire, merely conceptual. There is space enough here to see the implied message that radiance may involve pain. This implication builds momentum as the poem develops and it becomes clear that the speaker is speaking about what is at stake in human relationships. The line “What fell from your lips / came to nest into my mouth,” for example, presents an image whose logic builds tension. Even in the distance between bodies, there is a momentum at work, the momentum of interpretation and of thought within silence. The poem ends with a frustration of sense (similar to the longing of “Nostalgia”) in its final lines: “The gap on the page, / a muttering under a kiss.” What Burghelea gives us in these poems, ultimately, is a sensibility able to clearly evoke how much and how little of the body we’re able to hold onto.

Nostalgia – Clara Burghelea

I’m sick for my body
before it was a body,
bereft of aching and desires,
unaware of the shortcomings,
a prettiness slender
like a smack of wind,
a breathing silk of youth crowning it,
ready to deliver itself to the world,
without knowing it would be hard
to hold back its lush of innocence.

The body that hadn’t known
heart as a dark vessel,
no push of wind to sail its burden.
That body that had yet to grow
thick with other people’s thoughts,
its taps in disarray,
not a weight erased
but a weight made bearable.
This body I mourn the most.

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The Self as Introduction – Clara Burghelea

No wound loathes its scar,
yet craves the radiant absence.

God’s laughter punctures
the arch of the sky

every new dawn,
eyes bandaged with light.

What fell from your lips
came to nest into my mouth

the thieving of the heart,
an unpremeditated entry.

The gap on the page,
a muttering under a kiss.

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Clara Burghelea HeadshotClara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet. Recipient of the 2018 Robert Muroff Poetry Award, she got her MFA in Creative Writing from Adelphi University. Her poems, fiction and translations have been published in Full of Crow Press, Ambit Magazine, HeadStuff, Waxwing and elsewhere. Her collectionThe Flavor of The Other is scheduled for publication in 2019 with Dos Madres Press.

follow Clara on Twitter and Facebook

fiction feature & interview: Maria Alejandra Barrios

For this fiction feature and interview, I am happy to present a story by Maria Alejandra Barrios. This story is followed by an interview with the author on the piece as well as on her work in general.

In “A Girl Cooks,” Barrios presents a narrative that interrogates traditional roles within families, specifically between daughters and fathers. The narrative develops around the act of cooking and braids memory with present circumstances, a move that creates tension within a personal, intimate framework. Another engine at work in the story is the role of naming. Each time a food is named, the narrator gives presence to memory and to herself.  It is this latter empowerment that is the thematic arc of the story. The reader follows the narrator’s inner realizations to its powerfully nuanced conclusion.

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A Girl Cooks
by Maria Alejandra Barrios

I knew that I wanted to cook something simple and not necessarily typical of Colombian cuisine for the occasion: maybe some pasta pomodoro or maybe some beef with asparagus. As soon as I heard my dad was being released from prison, I bought the first ticket to Colombia I found, and I rented an apartment so we could spend some time together. We communicated all these years through long distance calls. When I told him I had moved to the United States, he went silent for what seemed like a long time. And I ran out of credit, so the call ended. I feared I would spend all my money on silent calls, so we never spoke about it again.

The night before being released from prison, my dad told me that he didn’t want me to pick him up. He would take a taxi from prison to the apartment. I didn’t say anything because I knew it might be a thing of pride or an attempt to protect me. Instead, I thought about how in American movies people always change in prison, I wondered if he had changed much, he had never been the protective kind.

I thought about what to cook. When we still lived with my dad, my mom always cooked Colombian dishes like arroz con coco and patacones with some fried fish or a frijolada con tocino. He didn’t like anything at all: he said that everything was too salty or not salty enough, that the rice was sticky, or the patacones were greasy. My dad would even get mad at me when I finished all the food or had something good to say about el arroz con pollo.

So no Colombian food, I thought. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have anyone to call on the phone like I used to call my mom when I was making buñuelos: “Mija, the important thing is that you find good cheese.” In bodegas, I found fresh Mexican cheese that was similar to Colombian cheese but never the same. The buñuelos would always taste like a modest version of home, and I would eat them while talking on the phone to her. I would lie and say that I found the right kind of cheese and that they tasted exactly like the ones at the pueblo. Through the phone, I could hear her smiling.

My dad said he would arrive at 2 pm. I served two plates of pasta pomodoro and some cheese on the side. I put a bottle of wine between the two plates and some red flowers in a vase. I took one last long look at the table before opening the door.

“Papi,” I said.

He hugged me. His hug was tight and desperate like he was thinking about hugging me the whole time he spent in the taxi.

We sat down at the table. “We should eat now while it’s still hot.” I was nervous, exactly how I would imagine my mom had been before every meal we shared with him. I wanted every bite to be perfect.

He started gulping the food. At some point, he placed the plate closer to his mouth so that he could eat faster. My dad finished his meal before me and poured himself a generous glass of wine. He didn’t offer me any, so I poured myself a more modest glass.

“I wish Marta was here,” My dad said after taking the first sip. The last time my dad saw my mom, ten years ago, he threatened to slap her. I took a sip of wine too, and I thought that maybe my dad had forgotten about everything that had happened before he went to jail. I wondered if I had forgotten too.

As I was looking from across the table at my dad, I thought about how my mom always used to make tamales for my dad on his birthday. Before making them, she would always look for all the coins in the house: she would look behind sofas and underneath pillows so that she could buy the biggest piece of meat she could afford at the tienda. After that, she would kill a chicken in the backyard. The smell of the herbs and the spices marinating the meats was so intense that Marina, the neighbor, always knew what she was cooking. Marina would beg for the recipe, but my mother would shake her head and say: “That’s a gift for mi hija. When I die, she’s the only one who’s getting the recipe.” When sitting at the table, she would look at my dad’s face first, waiting for a word of approval or an expression of pleasure. When it didn’t come, she would look at me. When eating with my parents, I was always nervous about my dad’s reactions to mom’s cooking. But when eating tamales I could never hide my joy. I would eat them fast, with my face so close to the plate you would think I was about to kiss it.

It never occurred to me to cook dad tamales for lunch. Pasta was easy, and tamales took hours and left my hands smelling like onions for days. Maybe papá had changed, in his sleepy eyes I no longer saw the young man that had made mami suffer so much. Looking at him, I saw that something in him had switched off, I just didn’t know when.

Afraid that he would be sleeping with his eyes open just like abuelo used to, I looked at him and asked the question that had been burning on my throat since I learned he was being released from prison:

“Do you remember mami’s tamales?”

He stayed silent, and I decided it was time to stand up. As I was picking up the plates, I realized I would never make tamales for him. It was the only thing my mom had left in this world that was only for me.

this story originally appeared in Reservoir Journal

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CalderapicInfluence Question: How did you get started in writing?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: I started writing with some kind of discipline when I was 15 years old.  I read a book called “Opium in the Clouds,” by Rafael Chaparro Madiedo and it got me really into reading and most importantly, into writing. I started writing very romantic stories that I would describe now as magical realism. I started uploading them into MySpace (which was really popular at the time), and people started messaging me and commenting on my stories. It was the first time I felt part of a community and that I felt confident enough to put something I created out in the world. Maybe this was also because I didn’t think about it as much as I think about it. All I cared was about me having fun with it and connecting with others. Looking back I think these stories were a lot about heartbreak. Or what I thought heartbreak was.

Influence Question: How does this particular story fit into your larger body of work?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: In recent years, I started writing more about my hometown(Barranquilla) and my country. When I lived in Colombia, I wrote about the places I dreamt about living in. Now, with some distance, I think I am able to write more about the things that I love about my country but also the things that upset me and that I’m still trying to understand. Relationships between fathers and daughters and the role that fathers have in the society I grew up in is one of those things that I’m still trying to figure out. I think this short story was the first step into me exploring the subject and hopefully having a bigger perspective on it so I can hopefully write a longer story about it in the future.

Influence Question: What are you working on now?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: I’m working on finishing my first short story collection of interlinked immigration stories. I’m working on edits and working on the final story that I hope ties everything together. I also started writing my first novel, which has been a scary process because I consider myself more of a short story writer. However, I have always been attracted to the idea of writing about love, and I think this novel might be a way of exploring that while also keeping the voice-driven first-person narration that I love so much.

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Special thanks to Maria Alejandra Barrios for sharing her thoughts on this story and her work! To find out more about Barrios, check out her site.

Maria Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing & Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. He stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, La Pluma y La tinta New Voices Anthology and The Out of Many Anthology by Cat in the Sun Press. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review and her fiction is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon.  Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center.

poetry feature: Adeeba Shahid Talukder

This week’s poetry feature comes from the work of Adeeba Shahid Talukder whose chapbook What Is Not Beautiful is out now from Glass Poetry Press. Talukder’s work was featured here once before in 2012 and I continue to be floored by her consistently engaging lyric sensibility.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of What Is Not Beautiful and got to share my thoughts on it via the following blurb:

“In poems that weave the lyrical passions and strains of Urdu literary traditions with contemporary nerve and insight, What Is Not Beautiful by Adeeba Shahid Talukder presents a new and necessary voice. This collection invites the reader to follow meditations on family, self, womanhood, and culture rendered with the intimate urgency of the best lyric poetry. In the same way the speaker of one poem “[searches], again for beauty” only to find it “means something / else now,” the readers of Talukder’s poems will find the world around them cast in a new, vivid clarity.”

beautifulFor readers new to Talukder’s work, I would add that the poems of this collection live together in a rich atmosphere of perception. Perceptions of beauty, specifically, are engaged with to gain an idea of as well as to challenge their role in forging a sense of self. Yet, there is also lyric perception at work here, a way with the line that invites the reader into perceiving what is at stake for themselves.

The poem “Mirror” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Starting with an image of the sky “watching” herself in a river, the poem adapts its personification of the sky around a narrative imbued with human resonance. We are, in a way, seeing two narratives at once: the sky’s perception of her seemingly “heavy, wrinkled” self and the speaker’s indirect identification with these images and implied feelings. This braiding of image and emotion is an aspect of Talukder’s work that reads both as spontaneous and natural as well as a feat of craft and intuition. Furthermore, this braiding results in a voice, here and elsewhere in the collection, that is intimate and accessible, yet capable of reading into the nuances and depths of complex perceptions. Despite the narrative’s finality in the ending lines, the poem remains an open-ended experience for both speaker and reader.

Mirror – Adeeba Shahid Talukder

the sky watches the river,
finds herself
heavy, wrinkled.

the furrows in her
as the ship pulls in,

the light on the noses
of the wavelets,

the fitful wind —

each a particle
of her mind in flux.

the fog says: nothing is
as it seems. you

will never know
if you are beautiful.

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Copies of What Is Not Beautiful can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.
Check out this interview with Talukder to learn more about this collection.

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adeebaAdeeba Shahid Talukder is a Pakistani-American poet and translator. She translates Urdu and Persian poetry, and cannot help but bring elements from these worlds to her own work in English. Her book Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved is a winner of the Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming through Tupelo Press. A Best of the Net finalist and a Pushcart nominee, Talukder’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in AnomalySolsticeMeridianGulf Coast,Washington Square, and PBS Frontline, and elsewhere. Talukder holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and is a Poets House 2017 Emerging Poets Fellow.

poetry feature: Dah

This week’s poem is drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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One of my favorite things about reading a new poet is being introduced to their ways of noticing. Whether it’s what they notice in the world around them or their interior world, this kind of noticing leads naturally to the noticing that plays out in language through word choice and phrasing. This week’s poem – “Inheritance” by Dah – captivates through its evocation of a unique sensibility and way of seeing.

First, the poem sets itself as being about seeing, about “Adjusting to darkness…” and “beginning to see.” From there, we get a catalog of sensation and detail starting in the second stanza. The speaker’s voice has a directness that is near terseness; for example, “wind-slap” and “moldy apples” are rendered through enjambment across line break and phrasing. One gets the feeling of overhearing someone sussing out the right words for things.

red tail hawkThis terseness opens up to the third stanza’s longer sentence about Death Valley. While this sentence is broken across four lines, the phrasing is only interrupted in a natural way at the end by a list. Yet, the pace continues to change. The third stanza’s last line is an interrupted sentence, taken up by the fourth stanza. There is subtle momentum that brings the reader closer in attention to what is being detailed. This attention is rewarded by the final interruption of the last two lines; here, the action of hearing “flapping, swishing” wings interrupts the pacing in a way that doesn’t disrupt the sense of the poem. Instead,  the action of these lines, and of the noticing and wording of them, ends the poem with a lyric turn reminiscent of haiku. We are left, like the speaker, listening close.

Inheritance – Dah

Adjusting to the darkness
my eyes dilate. Stars cast faraway
doubt. I’m beginning to see.

Against my face, a wind-slap
rattles my teeth. On the ground,
like musty breath, moldy apples
splayed open in crates;
I pocket the seeds and head west.

The expanse of Death Valley
is an exhausting sandbox
strung with ghost-rivers,
white sage, wild mules.
Under a littered moon

meteorites are agitated sparklers
or troubled spirits.
I hear flapping, swishing,
a red tail hawk.

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DAH_02 copy*

Dah’s sixth poetry collection is The Opening (CTU Publishing Group 2018) and his poems have been published by editors from the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Africa, Singapore, Spain, Poland, Philippines and India. Dah lives in Berkeley, California and is working on the manuscript for his eighth poetry book. He is a Pushcart nominee and the lead editor of the poetry critique group, The Lounge. Dah’s seventh book, Something Else’s Thoughts, is forthcoming in July 2018 from Transcendent Zero Press.

 

poetry feature: two poems by German Dario

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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One of my favorite quotes to go back to when talking about poetry is W. H. Auden’s idea that a poem is an individual’s version of reality. He said this specifically in terms of poets dealing with rejection; whereas the novelist may have a set of characters, a plot, and a whole world of complex narrative between themselves and the reader, the poet has only the scaffolding of a few lines, an image, perhaps a wisp of memory, all to evoke a feeling and experience. While rejection is felt strongly by all writers, for poets the experience is especially jarring; it is, in Auden’s mind, a rejection of their sense of reality.

I mention this notion of “poems-as-individual-versions-of-reality” because the work of this week’s featured poet – German Dario – carries itself into a reader’s reality in an undeniable way.

The first poem “Pan y Vino” has a speaker detailing childhood memories of a religious grandmother. The narrative develops first through the senses: the smell of “cigarettes, / coffee, / her” leads into a “Bible / size of a minivan.” These larger-than-life impressions help develop a logic founded on childhood memory and imagination, marking a distinction between the two. This distinction is experienced in the flow of lines from “With her voice / she painted / childhood pictures” to the ending’s admission of the speaker’s imagination helping to stray from the hold of these “pictures.” This break in affection and memory is subtle but powerful; it is not rebellion, but rather the inevitable break of an identity forming itself.

This attention to emotional nuances can be found in the second poem below, “evanescent.” Here, the speaker’s meditation on two separate memories, one of watching fireworks and one of a watching a comet, presents a parallel set of images. Fleeting light and fire pass through lines working to evoke memory; as the images pass, so does the gravity of the following moment during the fireworks memory:

that night my Dad said
“you know where you are
exactly
in the world right now”
Mom agreed
I
was never
so grounded again
none of us were

cometThis moment mid-poem has a two-fold effect: it first presents the speaker’s realization after the fact of what was actually happening during the fireworks. There’s the awe of the fireworks; but also the awe (tinged with wonder and sadness) of what was said. This awe resonates further as the comet imagery develops later in the poem.

In a way, the passage of time between memories becomes a third passing of light and fire; we realize along with the speaker that what strikes awe in us in moments like these is not the sights alone, but the fact of these sights, which is the fact of our lives essentially.

Dario’s poems, in this way, evoke reality’s ephemeral nature – something we try to reject, but also something that poems like these teach us to accept.

Pan y Vino – German Dario

Abuela’s religion was good,

It smelled of cigarettes,
coffee,
her.

Bible
size of a minivan,
an opened
flower garden,
Abuela led me
by the hand
of spoken word,
weaving story,
parable, fantasy,
real life.

We only judged
Abuelo’s religion,
she joked.
While he
manned the store
we ate pork.

With her voice
she painted
childhood pictures
so vivid,

I wanted to be a priest,

until my imagination
began to paint,
other pictures.

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evanescent – German Dario

it happened
on a fourth of july
three lost souls
sitting
alone
on the hood of a car
watching fireworks

shooting up
whole
together
burning bright
breaking up
the brightest transient life

that night my Dad said
“you know where you are
exactly
in the world right now”
Mom agreed
I
was never
so grounded again
none of us were

in the arms of a lover
in a rainy day
under a favorite blanket

never again

maybe
close
when three of us
a different three of us
sat on the hood
of another car
under the same stars
watching a comet
fly by in a hurry

to our human eyes
with our mortal time
it sat still
in the black
star littered canvas
so we could marvel
at our insignificance

the tips of our cigarettes
lit up the empty desert night
like the stars above
watching us
ash falling off
like the pieces
of the comet
marking its tail
leaving its trail

why was it always
three of us
together
right before
we broke apart

all we have left
are memories
folded petals
in long lost books
good enough to hoard

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German Dario resides in Tempe, Arizona with wife, two sons, two dogs and sometimes a fish. His poems are about everyday life moments through the eye of an immigrant. Earlier poems were published in the 1990’s in Anthology magazine. More recently published in the Blue Collar Review Summer 2017 issue.

Follow German on Twitter: @German_Colores
(photo credit: Amanda Nelson)

poetry feature: Shirani Rajapakse

chant-of-a-million-women-shirani-rajapakseFor this poetry feature, we have two poems and short essay by poet Shirani Rajapakse. The poems are from her recent collection,  Chant of a Million Women, and her essay goes into the themes of the collection and the role these two poems play.

I am honored to provide a forum for the discussion and interrogation of such complex issues as these poems and prose take on. Rajapakse’s work is filled with astute observation and insight. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” takes its time meditating on the act of men groping a statue; the pace of the poem allows the nuance and charge of the situation to be dwelled upon in a way in an unflinching manner. This ability to dwell on the problematic until it gives over something human is found again in “On a Street in London.” In both poems, and throughout Chant of a Million Women, Rajapakse provides space to acknowledge discomfort, injustice, and hurt, but also to begin the work of healing.

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At the Side of the Old Mandir – Shirani Rajapakse

They come to this place every day
to touch you.
Lonely men with desires unfulfilled.
Can’t afford the real thing, costs too much
these days, a glance, a caress.
They can barely afford food for the day.

You’re the best they can have;
voluptuousness in stone.
They ogle and marvel, then
gradually draw nearer.
A furtive glance in every direction to check
if anyone’s watching and a hand
lifts up to cup a breast.
Human and rock merge for a blissful moment.
An eternity passes as time
drags itself to a screeching halt.
Sighs of contentment escape.

Satiated temporarily,
they return to a place at a distance,
to admire and hope.

Later, moving inside they speak to God, plead
with him, cajole, sometimes demand.
Karma always questioned in times like this.
A truth hard to accept.
The reasons why never defined, lying hidden
in the cosmic ether beyond their
comprehension.

Your breasts are a shade darker than
the rest of your body,
colored from constant caresses of
lonesome men seeking stolen pleasures.
A slow smile playing on your lips, one arm
resting on a hip pushed out to the side,
the other raised from the elbow,
fingers encircling lotus, you stand waiting,
for what might be, as they shuffle past,
circumambulating
like the devout, softly singing praise
of the one within.
Quietly taking in their fill they return to
homes devoid of love and desire.

Who are you,
proud woman standing nonchalantly
gazing into the distance as they walk past?
What was your fate?
Willed by the hand that chiseled
you from a large rock hewn out from
another place one sunny day eons ago.
Who was the man that yearned for you so,
he cast you in stone in remembrance
to watch over the years
and give hope to
a multitude of desperate souls?

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Shirani Rajapakse on “At the Side of the Old Mandir” & “On a Street in London”

Women’s bodies have always been depicted in art as objects of desire and of un-attainability. The artiste or sculptor creates his work of art that is so perfect it moves the audience to gawk and stare and imagine possibilities in their drab little lives. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” speaks of this desire for a statue by a man who can’t have the real thing – a woman in his life  – because of whatever economic or social factors, or maybe because the wife he has doesn’t reciprocate his love. He stands in front of a statue fantasizing about what could be.

The influence for the poem was a statue of a woman at the side of a mandir (Hindu temple) in India. The old beautiful carvings on the outside of mandirs depict women in many poses. Almost all of the women have large breasts and voluptuous hips. What was interesting was that in some Mandirs the breasts of these statues of women were darker and I used to wonder why, until one day I saw the reason.

“At the Side of the Old Mandir” sets the stage to the collection. It also pulls in the idea of the role of women from history to the present and demonstrates that it really isn’t very different, although separated from time and space. Women were seen and continue to be seen as objects of desire; larger than life depictions of male fantasies.

The image of the abused female statues reminded me of what I once saw inside telephone booth on a street in London. This was a time just before the mobile phone and if you needed to make a call you’d use a public phone. I don’t know if those still exist, but one of the things that greeted you when you entered one of those phone boxes was a whole load of calling cards with photos of women, much like the statues of the women in those ancient temples. It appeared as though modern women were trying to emulate the statues which were probably carved out by men who were seeking the ideal woman and not finding that around them, they were creating images in stone.

It seemed very sad. We’d come so far yet as women we hadn’t given up the notion of pleasing others – of turning our bodies into objects of pleasure for men, and it didn’t matter that we were getting exploited as well. “On a Street in London” ends the collection. Between those two poems there’s just about every emotion and situation women have faced and will continue to face unless and until society realizes that something has to be done to halt this negative trend.

If women were objects that men in ancient times used to sculpt dreams of – narrow waist broad hips and voluptuous breasts – then women have down the centuries become the objects themselves, sculpting their own bodies to create a false view of what men want. Between the ancient statue and the modern woman who add breast implants and nips and tucks her body to please a man we have not progressed much. In fact we have come full circle to finally become what men have always wanted us to be – objects, a very visually pleasing object that is molded to certain parameters.

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On a Street in London – Shirani Rajapakse

Watermelons jostle
inside the telephone booth too small to hold
such wonders overflowing their space.

Glass and steel surround him
with a view of the street beyond.
They stare at him defiantly at
eye level sticking out strong and proud.

Watermelons big,
watermelons small,
watermelons cheap,
come buy my wares, a business card
stuck to the side cries out to the world.

Lonely hearts stir at the sight
every time they glance inside.

Her eyes beckon, pick up the phone and
dial me in, they blink lustily, as
watermelons heave inside tomato red spandex
stretched to accommodate.

Tiny shivers run marathons down
his spine as he envisages the feel of it
in his palm yet dares
not lift a hand to touch.

Too many eyes watching silently as
footsteps tap around him.

The city drifts this way and that as he stands
still, inside the box in the middle
of the pavement watching her globes
straining to jump out.

Her voice purrs at the other end,
trembles down the line, he
listens mesmerized and
imagines the thousands of possibilities
squashed between watermelons
brown like the earth, trembling
like an earthquake.

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SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAShirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Chant of a Million Women was self-published (August 2017). She has a BA in English Literature (University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka) and a MA in International Relations (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India). She interviews, promotes and reviews books by indie authors on The Writer’s Space at shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com